Hi! It’s Annie!
Merry Christmas! I don’t think we’ve actually talked abut Grinchmas and the holidays at Universal Studios Hollywood despite having been annual pass holders for years. Actually, this year is the last year that we have annual passes. Not because it isn’t affordable, Universal is definitely more affordable than Disney, but because we’ve gone there for so many years that the park is beginning to feel a little small to us. And the slight downfall of Harry Potter hasn’t really helped the situation much. Instead, starting next year we’ll be regularly attending LAs largest botanical gardens, which is one of my happy places, so I’m genuinely excited to go more often! And we are also hoping to save to spend a couple days at Disneyland, since that’s all anyone can afford now when it comes to Disney. But that aside, our last year attending Grinchmas was definitely a memorable and interesting one for a lot of reasons. And it did differ from my experiences at Grinchmas from previous years. So I’m going to go through my last visit to Universal’s Grinchmas and ask myself the question; does it still hold up?
The showstopper of Grinchmas is always the central area of Universal being transformed into Whoville. Usually they don’t have anything over there except for the occasional character meet and greet, but they completely transform it for Grinchmas. The space looks bigger and almost like it was always meant to be Whoville. If you stick around you’ll see plenty of Whos come out to greet guests. The Grinch is by far the best and most popular of them, so he always has quite the line. And as someone who has only seen him a couple times, I can tell you that the line was worth it every time. I didn’t feel the need to see him every year, but he was hilarious and I loved him when I did see him. Max has also always had a line, though his is pretty short. Max is a real dog who looks pretty miserable and I honestly just feel too bad for the dog to ever do that meet and greet in particular. This year marked the first year that Cindy Lou had a line and she wasn’t just wandering around; which is a great move considering how much she used to get mobbed! Along with her you have Martha May, the Mayor, the Baker, and a couple of other assorted Whos. They did used to have Cindy Lou’s brothers; but they have decided to forego all of the characters on stilts. While I miss the energy of the brothers, I think the stilts did prove to be a little much in such a small area. But I wish they would bring them back out without the stilts! My favorite Who personally is Cindy Lou’s dad, Lou Who. This is entirely because on a day where I felt a little weak due to the weather change, Lou came over to where I was sitting, warmed my hands in his mittens, and talked to me for a good fifteen minutes about the best types of Christmas cookies. It was very sweet! This year I only really saw the Mayor and Martha May, but they both looked stunning and I love that they walk around the entire area rather than have all of the characters stationary. It makes it feel more immersive.
Every year a few Whos will make their way to the stage to perform. This has differed every year. For a few years they alternated between Martha May singing with a trio of backup dancers and a really good acapella group. This was by far my favorite of what they’ve done, but they have since dropped both of these acts. Last year they decided to go a bit more modern with a Who DJ, but it didn’t really go over very well and didn’t really capture the aesthetic of Whoville. It seems that this was a popular opinion of the act, because the DJ did not return this year. This year they have a few Whos performing mostly for little kids and naming a couple ‘Junior Holiday Cheermeister’. This also didn’t seem to garner that much of a crowd, so I guess I’ll have to watch some videos next year to see if they continue beyond the year! The centerpiece of Whoville is the giant crooked tree and the time of day that is most busy there is the tree lighting. The Grinchmas tree lighting is an entire show that slightly retells the Grinch and features all of the main characters. Though the show is around the same every year, there are always a few changes. We see the Grinch appear and attempt to steal Christmas only to be stopped by Cindy Lou every year and usually the show ends with some sort of iteration of “Welcome Christmas”. This year they added some elements from the original Grinch cartoon that were really adorable! I grew up with the original Grinch cartoon and I was shocked and so happy to hear a song from the original cartoon. I think this addition made this year’s my favorite, but the show is always similar and always worth it despite the crowds!
There’s really not a whole lot of the rest of the park that celebrates Christmas directly other than Hogsmeade. Hogsmeade is already festively snowcapped all year; but the pinecone wreathes and extra lights make everything feel just that little bit more magical. The real centerpiece here though is the Hogwarts castle lighting. They have a special Christmas show projected onto the castle that’s absolutely breathtaking. It includes Fred and George advertising Weasley’s Wizard Wheezes, paper mache Yule Ball attendees dancing together including a very large and adorable Hermione and Viktor Krum, house Quidditch players having a snowball fight, and adorable Hogwarts snowmen. It’s an amazing show and I personally like it even more than the tree lighting. While every past year I was standing somewhere in the back of the crowd, this year I was standing right in front of the castle at the very front of the crowd. I don’t think there’s a bad seat for the show, but there was something magical about this. And it was by complete coincidence that my sister and I ended up there too. We had been riding ‘Forbidden Journey’, the ride inside of Hogwarts, just before when it broke down. And I mean completely broke down. We were right under the Whomping Willow mostly on our backs for a while (really really not fun) before they rotated all of the cars to face the front instead of the side and we rode the rest of the way through with the lights on. You get to see how close together some of the screens are and how far apart some of the decorations are that seem like they’re right next to each other. It was interesting to see half props or set pieces because they didn’t need the full thing as it all wouldn’t have been in view. It was really interesting! But because it did take us a little while to get off of the ride, by the time we got out it was dark and the show was just starting. It honestly all felt magical and kind of surreal. It was an unexpected but really cool last trip to Hogsmeade for a while!
In other words, Grinchmas and Christmas time at Universal absolutely holds up! It has to be one of my absolute favorite Christmas experiences at any theme park. Though I did grow up with Christmas at Disney and I don’t think it’s quite up to par with that. I do miss the snowcapped castle, the chaotic Christmas Small World show, and the Disney characters in their adorable Christmas outfits. But it’s definitely close enough! And the lines are probably much much shorter. I do miss some of the Whoville acts from years before; but for the most part I feel like Grinchmas at Universal Studios Hollywood just keeps getting better with each year. It doesn’t really change that much, but the few small changes that they make do make a difference. Is it the best theme park Christmas out there? Probably not. But it is certainly a magical Christmas experience and I think I’m going to miss it.
See you across the pond!